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My son is an honor student. Is there anything in particular I should tell him about alcohol and his academic success?


I know my son has been drinking sometimes on weekends. Should I be concerned that this will impact his college success?




My roommate and I hit parties at least four or five times a week.  That lasted for about a month. But then I started getting grades for my tests and papers and I was failing miserably. I wish someone had warned me about that. I just wasn’t ready for  the workload and got lost in the partying.    



Research indicates that drinking may contribute as much to a student's academic difficulties as the challenge of the academic workload itself. Keep in mind, though, that poor grades are not necessarily a result of too much partying. A mind-numbing professor can put your student to sleep in class despite all efforts to succeed, and other distracting challenges may arise during the year as well, such as illness or problems with a girlfriend or boyfriend. If students know their parents expect sound academic work, however, they are likely to be more devoted to their studies and have less time to develop alcohol-related problems.



Effects of Alcohol on Academic Performance


Students who can “party hard” and still score well in class are certainly the exception to the rule, but they do exist and there may be a few reasons for their apparent success. Those students may be studying during the day when no one sees them. Or perhaps they are getting grades lower than what they could be getting if they weren’t drinking so heavily – in other words, perhaps they are not meeting their true academic potential. Then again, maybe they have deep pockets and can afford a “ghostwriter” for many of their most important projects and tests.


But for most students, high-risk alcohol use can have a damaging effect on academic performance. Ongoing research indicates that “A” students average about three drinks per week, whereas “D” or “F” students average approximately nine drinks per week. One of the causes of these deficient grades is certainly the fact that students who drink the most miss the most classes. Alcohol also has several physiological and psychological effects that can inhibit academic performance. Alcohol affects many parts of the brain, in particular those associated with memory, coordination, and judgment. 


  • Alcohol can impair memory by inhibiting the transfer and consolidation of information into long-term memory.

  • Cognitive abilities are affected even by low Blood Alcohol Levels – even as low as .03%. The effects can persist for a substantial period of time well after getting drunk or even slightly buzzed.

  • Attention span is shorter for periods of up to forty-eight hours after heavy drinking. 

  • After a year of heavy use, alcohol can alter and even destroy brain cells, as well as cells that supply energy and nutrients to the brain.

  • Following high levels of intoxication, cognitive processes remain impaired for as many as seventy-two hours after alcohol has left the bloodstream. So if a student parties hard on a Saturday night, cognitively he isn’t back to normal until at least Tuesday.

  • High-risk drinking can cause damage to the connections between nerve cells and cause irreversible brain damage, including memory loss and personality changes.



Academic Schedule   


Although some campuses may select students’ first-semester schedule, they are quickly faced with the opportunity to arrange their own class schedule. Some students select classes that enable them to participate in athletics, or that provide the best learning experiences, or that allow them to participate with a favorite professor or allow them to work a job. 


Others may select their classes based on their “party” life, arranging their schedules to avoid early morning and Friday classes. At least initially it might be helpful to discuss with your student just what his or her academic schedule should look like. After all, selecting courses based on the accommodation of an active social life may not be the most cost-effective method of achieving a diploma.


As a matter of fact, in an attempt to address campus alcohol issues, some colleges and universities have conducted an extensive evaluation of their academic schedules. As a result, many have increased the number of classes that meet on Fridays, and even Saturdays, and have encouraged professors to conduct exams on Fridays as well.





Students who are most responsible indicate that their parents trust them and have high expectations for them. These students want to accomplish their own personal goals, as well as have their parents be proud of them. Talk with your student about realistic goals for what will happen academically, socially, and personally. 


Expectations should include all behaviors – not just ones involving alcohol, but other lifestyle-related issues as well. Consider the following when speaking with your son or daughter about your expectations.


  • Grades

  • Homework

  • Projects

  • Study time vs. social time

  • Financial responsibility

  • Work

  • Choices regarding drinking

  • Drinking and driving

  • Spiritual life

  • Staying in touch

  • Home visits by students and campus visits by parents

  • Nutrition

  • Sleep

  • Exercise

  • Relationships

  • Extracurricular activities

  • Volunteer work


At this point you can no longer provide direct assistance with homework, projects, and exams. But you can offer your continued support. Let your student know that you are always available to listen to his or her concerns.

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